The League

David Larimer
Two-time defending Gameday pick-em champion

David Larimer

An assistant NFL editor at the The Washington Post

Carolina at San Diego, Week One


Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

With their advance to last season's AFC title game, impressions of the Chargers have changed. The team is no longer a regular season tiger that turns kitten in the playoffs, but among a handful of bona fide Super Bowl contenders. Norv Turner has broken the stigma of a great offensive mind who couldn't win anything as a head coach. And quarterback Philip Rivers is no longer a fan-baiting jerk...well, he still is, but boy, he sure is tough, isn't he?

In this matchup, the burden of proof lies with the Panthers, who are trying to shake a reputation as underachievers in recent seasons. The task is daunting: Since Carolina star Steve Smith was unable to keep his nose clean--or more accurately, his teammate's nose in place--he is suspended for the first two games, leaving the Panthers with only three healthy wide receivers. Carolina went 0-3 in games Smith missed the past two seasons, and Coach John Fox would certainly feel the heat if the record reaches 0-5. Making things more difficult, the Chargers are 15-1 at home in regular season games under Rivers, who says he feels better than expected after offseason surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury he played with in the conference championship loss to New England.

Without Smith, and with quarterback Jake Delhomme playing his first regular season game since elbow ligament replacement surgery, the Panthers could rely on two old staples. Their first-team defense didn't allow a touchdown in the preseason, and defensive end Julius Peppers appears poised for a rebound from a hugely disappointing 2007 season. On offense, rookie running back Jonathan Stewart has added power to complement DeAngelo Williams's speed. The duo combined for 291 yards and four touchdowns on just 40 carries in the preseason.

While the Chargers rightfully have good vibes from last season, they do have some scars. In addition to Rivers's rehab, offensive stars LaDainian Tomlinson (knee) and Antonio Gates (foot) were hampered by injuries against New England, and neither played in the preseason. Gates admits that he is not yet at 100 percent. Of potentially greater concern is defensive catalyst Shawne Merriman, whose season could end at any time. Merriman, the NFL leader in sacks since the beginning of the 2006 season, elected last month against the advice of physicians to skip surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee.

By David Larimer  |  September 5, 2008; 12:30 PM ET  | Category:  Week 1 Previews Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Dallas at Cleveland, Week One | Next: Dallas at Cleveland, Week One

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company